By John Howarth
I’ve lost count of the discussions I’ve sat through talking about whether or not a CLP should set up a campaign HQ for its election campaign. All sorts of pros and cons are aired in these discussions:
the practicality of organising from, existing premises,
the perceived need for a public presence,
the usefulness of a focal point, and frequently,
the need to counter what the opposition might do.
All perfectly valid things to talk about but on their own of little value. The campaign HQ, like everything else a local party does during an election campaign is going to cost money and resources. Unless you are very lucky you are going to have to pay some rent and even if you don’t you are going to have to put time and energy into first organising, then staffing and eventually clearing and ‘making good’ the premises. It might sound a bit pompous but the decision on an HQ needs a business case – where does it fit with your strategy and what value does it deliver?
So what should the case for an HQ consider? Let’s start with the obvious:
Space and practicality
What do you need to achieve locally and how much space will it require? If you need to organise large scale mailings where envelope stuffing and address labelling are organised locally then you will need somewhere to do this. If you are organising by-hand leaflet distribution you will need somewhere to do this. If you are going to store materials you will need somewhere to do that. So you will consider how much space you need, how practical it is to use existing offices.
There may be all sorts of options available for the practical elements of a campaign, some borrowed from friendly organisations, some existing premises, but they may not give you any public presence. A shop front will give you a public presence but may not be cost-effective. You will want to think about how prominent its position may be, how much footfall or traffic there is, where members or visitors might park. If this is to be the right option a key factor is how you can make the frontage a great advert for your candidate. Large format printing can make a big difference and use roller banner stands rather than leaving them in their bags while not in use elsewhere. Think about the frontage as an advert for the Party – it needs to look professional and it needs a clear, effective and local message.
In politics first impressions matter and they matter a lot. Remember when Neil Kinnock fell into the sea at Brighton on the eve of his election as Labour’s leader?
As well as needing to think about the outside of your HQ think about the inside too. If it smells of damp and has the décor of a crack house then think twice about hiring it. If it’s a bit scruffy think about how you are going to improve it so that first impressions are positive – so budget for a tin of paint and find some volunteers. Again, use large format posters, make yourself some decent visuals and deck the place out so that it looks the part. Your HQ should be a photo op – somewhere that will be seen on Twitter and Facebook, so the interior matters.
If you are going to spend the money on an HQ think about how you make the most of it. Can you organise coffee mornings (though it isn’t a substitute for doing sessions in peoples’ homes), can you make a press story out of a visiting talk to members, how can your candidate use the space to meet people and opinion formers.
A good HQ can have a positive effect on party morale. Not only is it somewhere to work from, not only does it give you a presence, but it gives the members a lift. But bear in mind that Labour members are just like members of the public. Presenting the HQ well will give them confidence to communicate to others – and the opportunity to do so. You members should be proud of their HQ, which is another reason for doing it well. Getting the message to your members is the first step to getting it out to their friends and neighbours. Turning up at a badly done campaign HQ is a deeply dispiriting experience.
The Wall of Support
Get all of your supporters – everyone who visits to sign their support on a series of sheets somewhere on a wall in your HQ. Make it attractive, use pens of different colours (not just red!) and remember to use thick pens that can be read in a photo.
Remember the Furniture
I was once at an election where the campaign HQ was hired – it a good position, plenty of space, plenty or parking, loads of leaflets – not a table or chair in sight! They are the basics – but if you are going to base your technology in your campaign HQ think about how that is going to work too.
Costs and resources
This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of things you should consider but so often in Labour we do things ‘because we always have’ or because someone thinks it is ‘essential’ without really knowing why.
Once you have assessed all the benefits and you know how you are going to make the most of having a dedicated campaign HQ you can measure the value of having an HQ to your strategy and make a more informed decision. Just remember that if it is going to be worth the money then you need to make it look good inside and out.
More on costs and formats in our General Election Print Service brochure click here to get a copy.